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Last Updated: Wednesday, 29 August 2007, 07:22 GMT 08:22 UK
Greek PM pledges speedy fire aid
A man pulls a plough from ruins in the village of Xirochori, near Zacharo, West Peloponnese 28 August 2007
The government has vowed to get aid to fire victims quickly
The Greek government has promised to speed up compensation for those who have lost their homes in the fires ravaging the country.

The government, which has called for national unity, is facing a rising tide of criticism over its response to the forest fires.

At least 63 people have died in the blazes since Friday.

The fires remain unpredictable and emergency services are still struggling with the effects of swirling winds.

In the worst-hit areas, there are signs some fires are under control, says the BBC's Dominic Hughes in Athens. But the unpredictable wind direction means that when some fires are thought to be contained, they flare up again.

Satellite images show how the spread of the fires is changing

"In the name of God and Mary, do something! We've been asking for help since Friday," one distraught caller told Greek TV from the village of Matesi on the southern Peloponnese peninsula, the area worst hit by the fires.

"We can't see anything - the smoke is so thick. We can't escape any more, there is no way out. We are 40 people and we will burn," he said.

Arson suspicions

The government, which declared a national state of emergency at the weekend, has promised to act quickly to restore power and water to areas devastated by forest fires.

I've been coming here for the last 15 years on holiday with my children. It was a paradise here and now it is hell
Fire survivor

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis said houses would be rebuilt and forests re-planted.

Everything possible should be done to prevent young people becoming disillusioned and leaving devastated villages, he added.

"The government has decided the priority will be to the villages with the greatest number of fatal victims - Artamitha, Makistos and Smirna from the municipality of Zaharo," government spokesman Theodoros Roussopoulos said.

Greece battles against devastating forest fires

Mr Roussopoulos restated the government's view that many of these fires were started by arsonists.

Anti-terrorist police officers are questioning some suspects. Ministers have said Greece could be facing a new type of terrorist attack.

A 1m euro (680,000) reward has been offered to help catch those responsible.

There have been 120 major forest fires this year, compared with just 52 in of 2006.

With a general election due next month, the opposition Socialists have attacked the government for what they call its inability to protect people's lives and describing the handling of the crisis as a "national humiliation".

I spent Saturday night on the roof of my house watching a fire steadily progressing down the mountain towards us
Patience
BBC News website reader in Kalamata

Vaso Papandreou, an MP for opposition party Pasok, said there was a lack of co-ordination from the government.

"The army should be in from the first moment and it took some days, at least three days [for] the army to join the fight," he told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The weather conditions are very difficult and we knew that this summer would be very difficult and there was no preparation, and no co-ordination. Nobody knew who was responsible for... giving the orders for the whole situation.

"The result is a real tragedy and we feel ashamed as Greeks that it was not possible to protect the ancient Olympia."




VIDEO AND AUDIO NEWS
The devastation caused by forest fires in Greece





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